With LA’s Vote, America’s Two Largest Cities Have Said No New Fossil Gas

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The Los Angeles City Council voted on Friday to prohibit fossil fuels in new construction. The Council directed departments to develop a plan over the next six months “that will require all new residential and commercial buildings in Los Angeles to be built so that they will achieve zero-carbon emissions.” The plans are expected to be phased in over the next several years and will lead to widespread electrification in new buildings. This motion was presented by council member Nithya Raman, a progressive who was elected in 2020 in what was described as a “political earthquake.”

Councilmember Nithya Raman. Courtesy of the City of Los Angeles.

The city’s Mayor, Eric Garcetti, summed up the rationale and significance of this vote in an LA Times interview saying basically that then electrification movement is unstoppable. “Our forests are burning, the days are hotter, our floods are more extreme. … Do you want to fight the inevitable, or co-author the necessary?”

LA joins America’s biggest city, New York, which mandated all-electric new construction a short 6 months ago. It also comes shortly after the State of Washington Building Code Council moved last month to require all-electric space and water heating in commercial and multi-family buildings, becoming the first in the nation to enact this type of legislation statewide.

Things are moving fast. 15 years ago, fossil gas was seen as an efficient “bridge fuel,” and many people installed appliances like tankless gas water heaters with environmentalism in mind. Over the past decade, however, two climate-saving developments have led to a seemingly unstoppable trend towards building electrification: 1) Renewable electricity declined in price and exploded in adoption (check out this amazing graphic I came across this week showing how this happened over ten years in England) and 2) Efficient all-electric appliances — like induction stoves, heat pump furnaces, and heat pump water heaters came to market and proved that the all-electric home is both more desirable and more efficient that the days when Ronald Regan once promoted them.

Berkeley, California, less than 3 years ago, became the first US city to recognize all-electric buildings as the most promising solution towards decarbonization and banned fossil gas in new buildings in 2019. Dozens of California cities and counties followed suit, and the movement jumped coasts to New England in 2020 and hit New York City in 2021. 

California cities banning natural gas — image courtesy of PAE Engineers.

Gas companies, like many harmful industries before them (leaded gasoline or cigarettes anyone?), won’t go gently into that good night. Since the 2019 Berkeley bombshell, they have proceeded to enact “bans on gas bans” in 20 conservative states to prevent additional cities from mandating all-electric new construction. The industry has also started touting things like renewable natural gas and hydrogen as reasons to maintain their methane leaking pipelines, which are at best red herrings. While both fuels may have roles to play in a decarbonized world, most experts agree they will be used in hard-to-clean-up sectors like heavy industry and not in easy-to-decarbonize sectors like buildings.

Send these things to museums. Photo by Joe Wachunas

LA joins the chorus of climate change suffering cities, counties, and now states that recognize building electrification as the clearest path towards a decarbonized, petrostate-free world. In banning fossil gas from new buildings, the city has taken a crucial first step to prevent new fossil pipelines from being laid. Retrofitting the tens of millions of buildings nationwide that are connected to hissing gas meters will be a herculean task, but the speed of the electrification movement thus far along with the fact that the two largest US cities are onboard suggests there is plenty of reason to believe we’ll be up for the task, one city at a time.

Featured photo by Venti Views, via Unsplash

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Joe Wachunas

Joe lives in Portland, Oregon, and works to promote electric and decarbonized buildings. He believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.

Joe Wachunas has 67 posts and counting. See all posts by Joe Wachunas